A Variational Approach for Learning from Positive and Unlabeled Data

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Hui Chen, Fangqing Liu, Yin Wang, Liyue Zhao, Hao Wu


Learning binary classifiers only from positive and unlabeled (PU) data is an important and challenging task in many real-world applications, including web text classification, disease gene identification and fraud detection, where negative samples are difficult to verify experimentally. Most recent PU learning methods are developed based on the misclassification risk of the supervised learning type, and they may suffer from inaccurate estimates of class prior probabilities. In this paper, we introduce a variational principle for PU learning that allows us to quantitatively evaluate the modeling error of the Bayesian classifier directly from given data. This leads to a loss function which can be efficiently calculated without involving class prior estimation or any other intermediate estimation problems, and the variational learning method can then be employed to optimize the classifier under general conditions. We illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed variational method on a number of benchmark examples.